Kentuckians call on Sen. Mitch McConnell to help coalfield communities | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
Release Date: 
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Press Contact: 
Jerry Hardt
Communications Director

Kentuckians call on Sen. Mitch McConnell to help coalfield communities
RECLAIM Act would provide a boost to economic development projects

Proposed offset would help miners with black lung

The $1 billion that would be released by the RECLAIM Act is already collected, sitting unspent in the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund. The RECLAIM Act simply requires that those funds be spent sooner rather than later – and be used for reclamation projects tied to local economic and community development projects over the next five years.

Federal budget rules require that when spending increases in one area of the budget, this amount has to be made up in another area of the budget (called an offset). In this case, Rep. Rogers has worked to find a proposed offset that would also benefit coal communities – which is to maintain the current fees collected from coal companies that support the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Without this action, funding for the black lung program is scheduled to be reduced by more than half at the end of 2018.

“This would be unacceptable when we are seeing an increase in black lung, and more severe forms of black lung,” said retired coal miner Larry Miller. “So by not losing this revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, the budget rules are satisfied for the cost of RECLAIM.

“Kentucky cannot afford to let more than 4,000 men and women suffering from black lung to risk losing their medical support.

“We applaud Rep. Rogers for taking early action to secure full funding for the black lung program, and finding another way to benefit coal mining communities as we transition to a new economy. Together with the RECLAIM Act, the preservation of the coal miners pension, those are important and necessary steps toward healthy and vibrant communities.”

Senator Mitch McConnell is in a position to direct more than $100 million to economic and community development projects in communities hardest hit by the decline in coal mining.

Kentuckians held an action outside his Lexington office today asking him to waste no more time in doing that.

“The time is now to pass the RECLAIM Act,” said Lyndsay Tarus, the Economic Transition Coordinator for the Alliance for Appalachia. “This is a jobs bill. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has estimated that 4,600 jobs could be generated through the RECLAIM Act across the country.

“This bill is an opportunity for economic development and a chance to accelerate the clean up of abandoned mine sites in our communities,” she added.

The RECLAIM Act would accelerate the release of $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation fund and direct that the funds be spent to support local economic and community development projects tied to mine reclamation. More than $100 million of that would come to Kentucky over a five-year period.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the RECLAIM Act already has the approval of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Rogers is working to have the legislation included in the appropriations bill that Congress must pass by March 23.

House leaders have shown a willingness to work with Rogers on this but want to know that the legislation will be welcome in the Senate. That puts the focus on McConnell.

“We want to fix some of the problems left behind by the coal industry by offering up solutions to fill the void left by job loss, coal job loss,” said Larry Miller, a retired UMWA miner from Ohio County and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

“We have such a tremendous opportunity to reclaim, revive and diversify our coal communities across Kentucky and the United State with the passage of the House version of the RECLAIM Act,” added Miller who has 23 years experience working underground.

Miller, his wife Hattie and other met with members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation in Washington, DC last fall in support of the RECLAIM Act. Miller told them that it is important to allow the RECLAIM Funds “… to include not only reclaiming the land but to develop it in such a way that provide economic opportunity to our coal communities.”

“We can create new jobs. The RECLAIM Act is a step in the right direction, and now is the time to pass the RECLAIM Act.”

Also speaking was Jon Johnson, a native of Paintsville and currently a student at the University of Kentucky and a member of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition.

“Kentuckians have paid their dues when it comes to coal in this state and energy in this state,” Johnson said. “Mitch McConnell it is time to do something for the people that you represent. Support the RECLAIM Act now.

“I have so many friends that want to come back home, just like me. But we know that we can’t. We need new opportunities. This bill gives a billion dollars to that cause. We need that now, more than ever.”

The legislation has broad bipartisan support, both Tarus and Miller emphasized.

The group gathered outside of McConnell’s office unrolled a 20-foot scroll with documents showing support from more than 10,000 petition signers, 28 local governments that passed resolutions urging support for RECLAIM, op-eds written by county judge-executives and reclamation contractors, numerous letters to the editor from grassroots supporters, and the names of more than 40 bipartisan bill cosponsors in Congress.

"So where is Mitch McConnell? If he isn't listening to us and other RECLAIM champions which constituencies is McConnell serving?” asked Taurus. “Is it the people, the citizens and the mine workers, or is it the National Mining Association?

“All the pieces for RECLAIM to pass are in place. All that is needed is Sen. McConnell’s support to make that happen.”

Supporters are urging people to call 202-601-3839 “and tell him to pass the RECLAIM Act now.”